Britten: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
PERFORMER: Sylvia McNair, Robert Lloyd, Ian Bostridge, Brian Asawa, John Mark Ainsley, Paul Whelan, Ruby Philogene, Janice Watson; New London Children’s Choir, LSO/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 454 122-2
This is the third recording of Britten’s Shakespearean opera, following the composer’s own in 1966 (Decca) and Richard Hickox’s (Virgin, reviewed in August 1993). All have been blessed with imaginative casting, in the case of Britten’s featuring many of the performers from the Aldeburgh premiere in 1960, and this newcomer provides a fresh slant on many of the roles. Most notable is a representative of the new generation of countertenors, Brian Asawa, who, though he may lack Alfred Deller’s other-worldly vocal aura as Oberon, has a lyrical ease and disdain for the old-fashioned countertenor hoot that makes his one of the most purely attractive voices in the role. Another treat is Sylvia McNair’s sunny-voiced Tytania. The quartet of lovers is uniformly fine, while Robert Lloyd reveals a previously untapped comic ability as Bottom and Ian Bostridge is a delightfully capricious Flute. The LSO is in sparkling form, though Colin Davis is cooler than the composer, going for crispness and subtlety more than textural richness and passion.

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This is reflected in the production’s lack of theatricality. Although it was recorded at the Barbican in London following a semi-staged performance there, it lacks the sense of atmosphere so tellingly provided by John Culshaw in Britten’s own recording. Matthew Rye